Florida Keys - Here We Come

Our second day at Ding Darling Anchorage– (you gotta love that name) was spent exploring the surrounding area. There is a small bay surrounded by mangroves and the canals with lovely homes. We also made water for the first time. It feels good to know that we can now be more independent and despite our small water tank we can go where the big boys go.

IN the dinghy up one of the canals - note the tablet we use for navigation.

We left early on the Thursday the 3rd for Naples. We stopped in Naples last March on our way up the west coast and had a great time. The dockhand that met us at the gas dock had a very matter of fact, unusual way of treating sailors – she admitted to us they do not like to have sailors at the marina. In fact she told us that we were the most difficult visitors she has had to deal with because we ask too many questions. Can you believe it??? By the end of our stay and after hearing that a day after we checked in a power boater caused her to fall in the water by the dock, we had a good rapport.

Her Diamond on the wall at Naples Marina

We spent the first night on the wall next to several mega yachts – we are talking 94 feet long. In the morning, we had Lynn and Alan Danzig from Cleveland over for bagels and coffee and we met Judy and Ray Fant for a lovely dinner. I highly recommend The Pub for good food and wonderful piano music. We moved over to a mooring ($15/night rather than $105) around lunch time. The mooring was very well protected and we had less boat motiono on the mooring than we did on the wall with all of the river traffic going up and down, leaving wakes despite the no wake sign. We were a very short dinghy ride to the dinghy dock and the bath house – loved being on the ball.

Banyan tree in Naples

Our third day in Naples was superb. We walked to Third Street for a Farmers market and then walked from there to the beach to look for shells. Unfortunately it was high tide – not the best shelling time. We walked quite a way up the beach and decided to head east to Tin City – a small shopping area on the water. On the way we happened on Naples New Year’s Art show. The show was all up and down 5th Avenue. Beautiful things were on display. All in all we walked over 20,000 steps that day. On our way back to the marina, we stopped in at an open house to check out the local real estate market. The house we saw was selling for $3.4 million. Can you believe the master suite only had one closet!

Even the dogs were part of the art show!

From Naples, we motor-sailed to Shark River - a little more than half way to Marathon Key. It was a 60 mile trip. We did a similar trip last march when it got dark a lot later. We pulled into the anchorage at about 6:10 – just as it was turning dark. The chart shows two anchorages up the river that would have given us more protection from the wind and waves but we didn’t want to try to go up the river for the first time in the dark. We had also read that the bugs would eat you alive at dusk – the exact time we arrived. So, we anchored on the coast and had a very rocky evening. The boat rolled every 10 seconds or so. Neither Bob nor I get sea sick easily. And in fact, neither of us got sick; but I was concerned I might. We woke to very calm water and took the dinghy up Shark River to check it out for next time. While the cruising guides warned of the bugs – there was no mention of the smell of rotting plant matter. I was glad, even though we had a rocky evening, that we didn’t go into the river to anchor.

Shark River with mangroves on the right.

Monday morning we sailed off the anchor for the first time (we didn’t turn the motor on) and headed to Marathon Key. Last year we stayed at a marina on the gulf side, but with our water maker, our plan was to stay on a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor. We had one of the best, active sails we have ever had. The wind was a steady 12-18 knots and our point of sail (a following breeze off the port stern quarter) was one that Her Diamond loves. We were going as much as 8.5 knots for extended periods. That is FAST.

I had heard a lot about Marathon and the mooring field here but I was not prepared for the 200 balls, tens of boat anchored all around and the half dozen marinas that border the bay. We called for a mooring ball and the best we could do was get on the waiting list. (#7) Rather than anchor out, we found a small marina and thought we would splurge for hopefully one night until we could get a ball. We thought we were following the directions we got from the marina pretty carefully but just after green marker 21 we got a little out of the channel on the right side and went aground. The motor was turning up mud and we weren’t going anywhere. Luckily, a fishing boat was passing us and it stopped and pulled us back out of the muck. A bit aggravated we decided to turn around, not willing to try passing marker 21 again, and we called the city Marina only to find out that we had to go by the same marker 21 in order to get to the city office and we had to present ourselves in person to get put on the waiting list. A very nice guy from the city marina talked us through the tricky spot and a little later we arrived at SkipJack Marina. Five guys were on the dock to help us land safely – and we did. By this time, the City Marina office was closed so we knew we had to get to them first thing in the morning by dinghy.

We are now on our second full day in Marathon. SkipJack is an interesting place with time shares, single night hotel rentals, long term rentals and a marina. The Marina is mostly full with liveaboards and long term rentals. Being a transient, we are definitely in the minority. The people have been extremely friendly and the staff have also been very welcoming. There is some confusion among the staff as to which amenities we were entitled to. The hotel guests and long term rentals get a different package of amenities than the marina guests. So for the first two mornings, we helped ourselves to a continental breakfast served out by the pool, only to find out later that the woman who checked us in should not have given us the bracelets that show were are entitled to breakfast. It was nice as long as it lasted. There is a beautiful pool which we can use and we are a very short walk to Publix which is on the main highway #1.

Yesterday we walked to West Marine to get that one part that we needed (we always need one part) and then we met Susie and Chris Daily and their friends from Cincinnati for dinner at the Keys Fisheries. It was a long walk for us, about 12,000 steps, but it did feel good to get the exercise after a number of days just on the boat. We met Susie and Chris last year when we docked at a marina on the gulf side of Marathon. Chris was the one who taught me how to fish. The restaurant prides itself on fresh fish and the literature says that they are the ones that supply Whole Foods with fish. Bob and I both had grilled grouper sandwiches which were delicious. Of course this is after the shrimp, crab claws and oysters that Chris ordered from the raw bar on the second floor. It was great catching up with them enjoying a drink and meeting their friends. They are now docked at a new marina on the gulf side called Marlin Bay. We walked with them back to their boat after dinner to get a look at the place. OMG. I felt like I had walked onto a movie set. There were only about 8 boats in a marina that can accommodate well over 50 and the rental units that surround the pool also have pools and look like something out of an architectural magazine. We aren’t quite sure what the business model is as the units appear to be empty (apparently construction was completed in 2008 and the place never opened). A relatively new owner is trying to reinvigorate the place – it will be interesting to hear about the changes in the coming months. The transient rate is $3.25 a foot a bit more than the $2.50 which is more the going rate for the area.

So, we have realized that we will be here for at least a week as the forecast looks like winds from the north for at least that long and we can’t cross the Gulf Stream with northerly winds. We are content to be at Slipjacks for a week and hopefully a mooring ball will open up by then. In the meantime, we have a lovely pool, Sombrero beach and great restaurants to check out. My goal for the day is to learn how to use the metal detector that Bob got me for my birthday that we have yet to use.

One funny story – the first night we were at SlipJacks we went up to the shower house at about 10:00 pm to shower before going to bed. The shower section on the women’s side of the building is separated from the restrooms by a door with a combination lock. I began my shower and was truly enjoying the hot water and quiet alone time when all of a sudden I was in darkness. It was only then that I remembered that there was a timer for the light on the outside of the restroom door. I don’t know if the time ran out or someone going by turned off the timer, but there I was, all soaped up in the pitch dark. Being the sailor that I am – prepared for almost anything – I rinsed off, and slowly and carefully walked over to where my clothes were ( I only knocked into a wall once) on the side of the sink and groped for my phone. With the flashlight on, and towel wrapped around me, I quickly left the shower section and went through the restrooms to the timer on the outside. The next day, I told the woman at the front desk what had happened and she calmly told me I was not the first to have the problem. Bob suggested how they could easily remove the timer by connecting the two hot wires, bypassing the timer. The very next day it was fixed. We left our legacy at SkipJacks!

More to come…….

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